“Hope starts small, even as a seed in the womb, but it feeds on outrageous possibilities” – Jan Richardson, Night Visions, pp 56-57
Imagine you’ve been sitting on the hillside, minding your sheep and your own business, when suddenly the angelic host appears and frightens you out of your wits. Then fast forward a bit—you’re running towards Bethlehem to see the new baby and his family.
Now, freeze frame again:
How do you see the Holy Family? What do they look like? “Ordinary”?—what does that mean? Iconic? A nativity scene or an artist’s impression? Surrounded by shepherds and angels and animals, or isolated and on the run from Herod—or from dubious family members still unsure of Joseph’s wisdom in marrying Mary? Perhaps you see a pageant—a filmstrip of images one after the other, screening numerous family scenes and mythologies and narratives. Hold them in your mind’s eye…
In a young adult book by Terry Pratchett, young Johnny—dysfunctional family, odd friends, approaching adolescence—finds himself in a computer game that’s become real. From the blurb: “Johnny Maxwell, 12, thinks he’s a loser. People don’t seem to notice him, his parents are threatening to split up, and he’s not very good at the shoot-up-the-bad-guys computer games that he and his friends are always playing. But after his hacker buddy, Wobbler, gives him an illegal copy of Only You Can Save Mankind, strange things happen.” Johnny’s battling aliens, and finds he has to be a hero, a saviour; he has to make the right decisions. In fact, “Johnny… has to learn how to wage all-out Peace. “
The book poses the question, “If Not You, Who Else?” Johnny finds out that, with a bit of help, he can in fact save mankind. It’s fantasy. It has the kind of ending that’s—well, it’s hopeful.
A young woman, betrothed as was customary but not yet married, complex social relationships, the invasion of alien ideas — dreams — visitations; an unplanned pregnancy, unexpected responsibilities at an early age. Mary finds she’s giving birth to a hero, a saviour; she and Joseph have to make the right decisions. In fact, their child will come to be called the Prince of Peace. It’s mythical. It has a kind of hopeful ending…
“Hope starts small, even as a seed in the womb, but it feeds on outrageous possibilities.”
And today’s story? Our holy families. Outrageous possibilities suggested, challenges set before us, dreams and visions of what might be. On Christmas Eve we come to be re-inspired, to seek the mystery; to find answers in a stable, hope in a cattle shed.
This Advent we’ve been challenged by the Christian World Service, whose theme for this year is, “Save the Earth; Save its Peoples”. It can be frightening. The Christian World Service “angels” can overwhelm us with how much there is to be done, but they’ve also shared stories of what people and groups are doing around the world, and what we can do, here in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Marian Wright Edelman knows about possibilities. Marian’s a lawyer, educator, activist, and the first African American woman admitted to the Mississippi state bar. This is what she has to say—and I’ve added Jesus to the heroes she names: “It’s time for greatness — not for greed. It’s a time for idealism — not ideology. It is a time not just for compassionate words, but compassionate action… A lot of people are waiting for Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi [or Jesus] to come back—but they are gone. We are it. It is up to us. It is up to you.”
So, for a moment, re-run the film; sit still on the hillside once more, as the angels appear—and this time, try not to be frightened because they’re giving us a clue: Peace and Goodwill—that’s how we save the earth. When hope and joy, peace and love are born in us, and influence what we do.
This year, next year, it’s our families who need to be the holy families, the communities of possibility and hope. This year, next year—day by day, in the attitudes we hold, the decisions we make, we can save the earth, and save its peoples. Not through grand gestures and heroic deeds, but through storytelling and nurturing the hope, stepping out with sometimes inexplicable faith, celebrating the outrageous possibility that our gifts are already changing the world, saving humankind, saving the earth.
For example: through schemes like the one at my work this year, where we could get a tag from the Birthright Christmas tree, and buy a gift for the named child. So this year, Leilani aged 12 who might not otherwise have received a Christmas present, will get something from Santa that cost under $30.00 and took me less than 10 minutes to choose;
or by supporting organisations whose focus is on child welfare and parenting—Plunket, Barnadoes, Birthright, Family Planning, UNICEF— most of whom make saving the world so easy online or by phone—just click to make a donation, or dial a number to give $20.00 or $30.00 or $50.00.
Waging all-out Peace. If not us, who else?
Fast forward again! Down off the hillside—angels carolling encouragement, the three wise queens running by our sides with their food bank trolleys, our friends and neighbours wanting to share the good news, the star racing through the heavens, arriving in tandem as we reach the stable door, shining its image of hope and wonder over us and the family and the animals, the lowing cattle, the braying donkey, the silly sheep; the earth in all its fullness spinning with us, tumbling down the hillside, skidding up to the familiar scene — where an outrageous family, an ordinary family, a holy family, a world of outrageous possibilities lies swaddled in Christmas wrapping, tugging at our hearts.
This year, next year—outrageous possibilities are at our fingertips, in our hands.
If not now, when will we save the earth?
If we don’t save its people, who will?